Having written about the COVID virus many times to date, – six, to be exact – I swore the last time I wrote about it would be the last time that I wrote about it. And yet, here we are turning over a new month, into July and I find myself writing about it again.
In this writing, I am going to take a look at some of the countries that have taken a different approach to handling the pandemic.
First up is Sweden. A county with a population of 10,099,265 people. Ten million people is not a small number by any comparison. So how is Sweden handling the virus outbreak?
It is one of the countries that stood out the most for not imposing a lock down. The country, which has a population of over ten million people, has recorded more than 21,000 cases and more than 2,400 deaths till now. Most schools and businesses are still open in the country and people have been urged to not venture out of their homes unless necessary. Restrictions are stricter for older people who have been told to maintain social distancing, avoid using public transport and not undertake non-essential travel. Even then, a large proportion of the death toll in the country comprises those above the age of 70 years as infection spread in care homes.
Steering Sweden’s policy to tackle corona virus is epidemiologist Anders Tegnell who maintains that like other countries, Sweden, too, wants to slow down the spread of infection but by putting the responsibility to follow social-distancing measures on the people, rather than by a lock down mandate. Tegnell has also dismissed claims that the country’s policy is to build herd-immunity by letting a majority of the population get infected with the disease.
In an interview with a Swedish newspaper in March, Tegnell said, “The main tactic is not about herd immunity, but that we have a slow spread of infection and that the healthcare system gets a reasonable amount of work”.
Some health experts disagree with Sweden’s approach. In a letter published in a Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter recently, 22 scientists called into question the approach followed by the officials responsible for shaping the country’s policy against COVID-19 and urged politicians to intervene and undertake swift and radical measures. But, Sweden’s Public Health Authority is an autonomous body and functions independently from the government due to which it is able to make decisions without government interference. In fact, in most of the media briefings about the disease, politicians are rarely seen.
Next on the list is South Korea. A county with a population of 51,269,185 people. With its population of Fifty-One Million people, larger than Sweden, it too is nothing the brush aside. So how is South Korea handling the virus outbreak?
South Korea was one of the worst-hit nations during the early stages of disease outbreak, but has remained to be one of the few that has managed to keep the situation under control without a lock down. The country followed the strategy of aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolation. On Thursday, the country recorded no new domestic cases for the first time in 10 weeks. There are more than 10,000 cases in the country, with 247 deaths.
Next, and probably one that you wouldn’t have thought about is Turkmenistan. A county with a population of 6,031,200 people. With its population of Six Million people, smaller than Sweden and much smaller than South Korea, is still a formatable population. So how is Turkmenistan handling the virus outbreak?
Turkmenistan is one of the few countries in the world with no reported cases of the disease as of now. While flights from Beijing and Bangkok and later all international flights were suspended during the disease outbreak and the country began to lift its citizens from other countries in February, no lock down measures have been imposed in the country as such. Even so, there are checkpoints to enter big cities and towns where passengers’ body temperatures are checked and traffic has been restricted between different provinces.
On April 25 and 26, thousands of spectators gathered in stadiums to celebrate Horse Day, a local holiday, where President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s horse was declared as the most beautiful by the judges.
But there is skepticism about the claim of having no cases of the disease as the country is believed to have one of the most repressive and secretive governments in Central Asia. On April 28, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reported that ahead of a visit to the country by WHO’s experts, authorities were clearing out hundreds of people from quarantine zones in an attempt to hide suspected cases of corona virus. Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, however, maintains they are not hiding anything.
In fact, some news reports have claimed that the country “banned” the use of the word “corona virus” by media outlets and arrested people if they were found discussing it. One report in Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty said the state media was treating it as if the disease never existed as they are not saying anything about the effects of corona virus, “and the word has even been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces, according to Turkmenistan Chronicles, one of the few sources of independent news, whose site is blocked within the country,” the report said.
Last, but not least, as always is Tajikistan. A county with a population of 9,537,645 people. With its population of Nine Million people, smaller than Sweden and much smaller than South Korea, but larger than Turkmenistan. So how is Tajikistan handling the virus outbreak?
Tajikistan reported its first 15 cases of the disease on April 30. The schools have been closed since April 25 and its domestic football league was suspended on April 26. The country has largely been in denial about the spread of the disease in the country for the past few weeks.
According to Eurasianet, mass gatherings have been banned, including for Ramadan, and medical face masks have been mandatory.